How Getting Your Flu Shot Helps the Fight Against COVID-19
Across a divided and suffering America, many of us are united by hope for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months.
Creating a vaccine is a massive undertaking, and I am heartened to see early signs of progress. Manufacturers and governments are preparing to quickly produce and procure hundreds of millions of doses. Yet that heroic effort will be wasted if our health care system, and we as individuals, are not prepared to administer and receive them.
It is no small task: In the United States, we will need to immunize roughly 200-250 million people to achieve herd immunity. Even if we could immunize a million people per day, it would take more than six months.
By comparison, last year Americans received about two-thirds as many vaccines for seasonal flu – and that required every avenue available to us, from neighborhood pharmacies to doctor’s offices, hospitals and at-work clinics.
We must stand up a vaccination infrastructure that can work with military-like precision and capacity to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations when they become available. This will be an enormous undertaking, which requires immediate action from all of us.
As individuals, we should get our flu shots as soon as we can – even if we have not in the past. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in the 2018-19 flu season, only about 45 percent of adults received their flu shot. That is not enough, and with people avoiding routine and preventive health care for fear of contracting coronavirus this year, we all need to do our part to tell our families, our neighbors and our friends that it is safe to get their flu shot. In fact, every health system, hospital, clinical and medical office should raise awareness and outreach to achieve full flu immunization.
The benefits are twofold. We must minimize the number of patients that get the flu and subsequently use our already overburdened healthcare system. And only by getting flu vaccinations up and running, and exercising the infrastructure, will we be ready to maximize COVID-19 vaccines and shorten the pandemic.
Secondly, our health care leaders, from policymakers and pharma manufacturers, through the supply chain, to sites of care, must assess and augment capacity and systems needed to effectively deploy vaccines as soon as they become available. We cannot afford missteps, or divisions, if we are to avoid continued loss of life, human suffering and flagging economies.
As a physician and former administrator of one of the nation’s largest hospitals, I understand the challenges ahead. I have mourned patients who died for lack of a simple medical intervention, and I have celebrated when our united citizens, government and health care system pulled us out of a crisis, such as HIV/AIDS.
More than 5 million of our citizens have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 170,000 have died. The economic consequences also are extreme, with estimates for this year and beyond of gross domestic product (GDP) loss near $8 trillion.
Yet there is a pathway forward, which is supported by science and data from around the world. We already know the essentials: Everyone should wear face masks when in public and encountering others; stay six feet away from other people and avoid gathering in large groups.
These measures along with preparing for a vaccine would make a huge difference – but only if we all do it together.